Johannesburg - Digital assistants, virtual reality headsets and 4K televisions are this year’s hot technology trends as seen by the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
The world’s biggest technology show, which this year turned 50 and saw a record 180 000 visitors, turned the US gambling capital into the centre of the technology world last week.
Technology giants - ranging from phone makers Samsung and Huawei to chip-maker Intel - teased their product offerings and planned developments for the year ahead.
And the tech world, in a big way, is moving on rapidly from smartphones, which have defined and dominated the last decade since the launch of Apple’s iPhone in 2007.
Below then are the key major trends that I witnessed while attending this year’s CES.
Amazon’s personal assistant technology ‘Alexa’ is being built into every major gadget type possible.
The cloud-based artificial intelligence tool - which can handle tasks such setting an alarm, building to-do lists; getting weather and traffic reports, and connecting to an array of smart home devices - was a big talking point at this year’s CES.
Chinese PC and phone maker Lenovo announced that it was launching a smart home assistant powered by Amazon's Alexa.
Meanwhile, another Chinese company, Huawei, laid out its plans to bolt on Alexa to the Huawei Mate 9 as part of its US debut sometime in early 2017.
Alexa is even making its way into cars as Ford announced a partnership with the Amazon service.
Ford said it plans to let drivers ask Alexa to find destinations from their cars, control smart home devices, and, of course, order products from Amazon itself.
Other big technology players such as Google and Apple already play in the personal assistant space with their respective Assistant and Siri tools.
What will drive the adoption of this technology is the growing presence of the internet of things. Personal assistants will particularly have an impact in smart homes where switching off a light or activating an alarm can all be done through voice activated prompts on a smartphone.
Virtual reality headsets
Giant leaps are are being made in virtual reality technology as headsets get lighter and computer processors more powerful.
A day before the kick-off of CES, chipmaker Intel held a press conference that mainly occurred in virtual reality.
Upon arriving at the press briefing, media were presented with a black comfortable chair, an Oculus Rift headset, a laptop and a bag in case of possible nausea.
For most of the briefing, Intel showed off how far virtual reality has come with 360 degree videos of a live basketball game, a live crossing to a drone flying over solar panels in Nevada and a video game featuring zombies.
It’s clear that the opportunities for virtual reality are going to blow open in coming years, especially with sports content.
Intel also teased the first version of its Project Alloy headset. The company said the headset, which is expected to go on sale later this year, will feature a combination of virtual reality and augmented reality.
This means that it is capable of featuring immersive video content as well as augmented reality in which it projects computer generated images on real-life settings. Intel plans to tap partners in making and selling the device.
Apart from Intel, virtual reality headsets could be seen at a range of other vendors stands at CES from Samsung to Panasonic and more.
Google also announced key partnerships with Asian phone makers such as Huawei, ZTE and Asus to take forward its 'Daydream' virtual reality system.
At this stage, it looks as if little can stop the virtual reality wave.
While VR headsets are providing an immersive viewing experience, television makers - ranging from Samsung to LG and Hisense - have gone all out on making bigger and bolder 4K and QLED TVs - the latest buzzwords for the industry.
Samsung launched its new QLED 4K lineup, which offers brightness, colour and other improvements over last year's high-end SUHD lineup.
LG also debuted its ‘wallpaper-thin’ high-definition TV that measured 2.57mm thick in a 65-inch screen model.
South Africa and China’s biggest TV seller, Hisense, unveiled its plans to sell a 100-inch 4K laser projection TV system later this year.
Hisense’s use of a projection system is set to provide a similar experience to that of 100-inch televisions but at lower cost, said the company. Using a short-throw projector, Hisense’s Laser TV projects a 4K HDR picture on an included screen via HDMI or USB.
It will be available later this year for $12 999.99 (R176 000) and Fin24 understands that Hisense is preparing to show off the television in South Africa soon.
Big companies like Samsung are also tapping 'quantum dot material' technology which lets TVs show off a wider range of color.
Apart from the big name companies, a number of smaller vendors also showed off their 4K TV sets - both flat and curved screens - meaning that the technology is set to become the new standard.
Overall, all of these technologies - be it virtual reality or high definition televisions - are set to talk to each more through internet of things technology and personal assistants like Amazon Alexa.
Our world, and the things around it, are about to get a lot smarter. Be prepared for everything to be connected.
Gareth van Zyl is Fin24's Johannesburg Bureau Chief.
*Fin24 attended CES 2017 courtesy of Hisense.
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